Burn Center Raises Caution About Scald Burns

LIVINGSTON — When people think of burn injuries, they often associate them with fire, but that is only one segment of the injuries treated in a burn center. According to the American Burn Association, approximately 32 percent of all inpatient admissions to burn centers in North America are for scalds.

Scalding is any burn that is caused by a hot liquid. It can be bath water that is too hot or soup out of the microwave that is spilled while being carried to the table. Either way, it is as catastrophic a burn injury as any other and can often be fatal.

During Burn Awareness Week, Feb. 3 through 9, The Burn Center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, the only certified burn treatment facility in New Jersey, is joining the Prevention Committee of the American Burn Association in its campaign to eradicate scald burns. Burn injuries, particularly scalds, are preventable by simply becoming aware of the problem and making some small changes in your daily routine.

While everyone is vulnerable to scald injuries, especially in the winter months, scald burns appear to be most prevalent in children under five years of age and older adults, primarily due to developmental changes. In children, curiosity and lack of coordination may lead to many accidents. For adults, it is often changes in sensory perception that lead to a scald injury.

As we get older, many of us tend to get used to doing things a certain way and may become complacent and somewhat resistant to change,” says Lisa Jones, Community Burn Educator for The Burn Center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center. “A few simple modifications in your routine can prevent a life-altering incident.”

Two areas of most concern are scalds from bath water and hot liquids. The temperature of water used for bathing is especially significant for children and older adults, whose skin is thinner and more susceptible to a deeper burn. A bath or shower that is too hot can be fatal and it can all be avoided by simply lowering your hot water temperature.

“Hot liquids, such as coffee, tea and soup pose risks as well and burn just as severely as fire,” explains  Jones. Hot liquids need to be treated with care, especially around children. It only takes an instant for a curious child to pull down a cup of hot coffee off a table.”

The Burn Center at Saint Barnabas recommends the following tips for preventing scald burn:

  • Homeowners should check the temperature of their water heater and set the thermostat at 120 degrees.  Jones cautions that thermostats set at higher temperatures greatly increase your chances of a scald burn.
  • For those unable to lower the temperature on their water heater, a meat or candy thermometer can be used to check the temperature of the water in your home. This will increase your awareness and allow you to make proper adjustments to the ratio of hot to cold water you are using.
  • Infants and toddlers should NOT be bathing in water over 100 degrees. If the water feels hot to an adult, it will be scalding to a youngster and will need to be cooled prior to bathing.
  • Younger children cannot verbalize and older adults often cannot properly feel pain from a scald burn until it is too late. Taking proper precautions prior to using tap water in your home can prevent injuries.
  • Keep all hot foods, especially liquids, away from curious hands. Center them in the middle of a table or on back of a counter, keeping cords and pot handles turned inward.
  • Limit the use of table cloths, place mats or anything toddlers (especially those just learning to walk) may grab onto, causing hot items to splash down.
  • Avoid carrying children while holding hot beverages; never hold a cup of hot coffee or tea in the beverage holder of a stroller. Consider using travel mugs, even at home to minimize risk of scalds.

In the event of a burn, it is important to immediately take the following steps:

  • Cool all burns with tepid to cool water. Continue flushing the area for up to 10 minutes. Do not apply ice, ointments, butter or other “home remedies.” Remove all clothing or garments to reduce the contact time with the hot items.
  • Cover affected areas with a clean dry cloth, towel or blanket to protect the burn and minimize pain.
  • Seek immediate medical attention, especially in burns involving children and older adults and in cases where skin is sloughing.

Critically burned patients require the expert, highly sophisticated care that can only be provided by an experienced team of medical professionals at a comprehensive burn center. In New Jersey, that kind of specialized care is available exclusively at The Burn Center at Saint Barnabas. Established in 1977, it is the state’s only certified burn treatment facility, with 12 intensive care beds and an 18-bed-step-down unit for less critically injured patients. The Center is one of the largest in the United States and Canada and cares for more than 400 patients annually. The Burn Center is recognized as a national leader in burn care by the American Burn Association and the American College of Surgeons.

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